Roos keeps drive alive for athletes

jane_roosWayne Scanlan
The Ottawa Citizen
July 16, 2008

Can a measly eight bucks go far in Beijing?
Jane Roos thinks so.
Roos, a promising track athlete in Ottawa until she was badly injured in a 1988 car accident in Casselman, has been a champion for amateur athletes in this country for more than a decade.

The 38-year-old used to run miles, now she types miles, texts miles and talks a blue streak. All for the cause of athletic excellence.

The Canadian Athletes Now Fund, launched by Roos from Toronto in 1997, has since raised a few million dollars, sometimes $1 at a time, to help our Olympic athletes compete against the best in the world.

The fight goes on.

Hundreds of athletes wearing Canada’s colours — or striving to — still don’t have enough money to afford top coaching, travel costs or the equipment to be the best they can be.

Some, such as B.C. wrestler Haislan Garcia, have to take on part-time jobs to pay bills.

To those who would say, “What’s wrong with paying part of the freight?” keep in mind that our Olympic “amateurs” need to train like professionals. Full time. Menial jobs rob athletes of rest, training time and nutrition. They interfere with the travel required to compete internationally — travel often paid for by the athlete’s family. (Hockey parents can quickly relate).

Top carded athletes get $1,5000 a month from Sport Canada and some who compete at the highest levels are not yet getting national funding due to the lag between performance and carding.

Roos’ program identifies worthy cases and provides an additional $6,000 to amateur athletes twice yearly, but there isn’t enough to go around. Each year, hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic athletes request funding from Roos.

“We need $5 million a year to keep up with the funding requests,” she says. “The most we’ve ever raised in one year was $2.2 million.”

You may have heard of past Canadian Athletes Now (CAN Fund) pitches, such as “See You In Athens” or “See You In Sydney.” Roos went to court to fight the Canadian Olympic Committee for the rights to those slogans — and she won.

Now, she is asking Canadians to give $8 for the cause, a campaign billed as $8 for 08/08/08, tied to the Aug. 8, 2008, opening of the Beijing Olympics.

To help sponsor an athlete from this area, go to the website at The fund program will later let you know which local athlete you helped.

Among her many creative strategies, Roos is challenging NHL players to get on board (she must have noticed the July 1 free agent contracts). So many amateur athletes have shown the way. Olympic gold medal-winning kayaker Adam van Koeverden, who was once a recipient of CAN Fund money, said he could not have won his world and Olympic medals without that support. To express his gratitude, van Koeverden, though still competing, donated $800 of his own money to support his fellow athletes in Beijing.

Cross-country skiers, bobsledders and Canada’s female hockey players have all given back to the program. NHL players haven’t really been asked before, so Roos is on the task.

“I have yet to get a hockey player to donate,” Roos says. “I have heard from hockey alumni, but not current players.”

It doesn’t even have to be money. Roos would settle for eight hockey sticks, eight game jerseys or eight minutes of a famous player’s time.

“What would someone pay to speak to Wayne Gretzky for eight minutes?” Roos wonders.

Of course, she already has a rather famous hockey owner on board. Last summer, Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators, donated $1 million to the Patrons of Sport program launched by Roos. According to Roos, Melnyk was given a list of the athletes he directly helped.

For a fund raiser such as Roos, Beijing is not the easiest piece of work. To start with, the focus in our country is already on the Vancouver-Whistler Games of 2010. They cast a long shadow.

When Canadians do imagine Beijing, they consider China’s political policies, its track record in human rights. Some wish the Games would not even take place this summer.

None of that is the fault of athletes competing in these Olympics.

Do you know who your Olympic athletes are? Pre-Olympic profiles in this newspaper by staff writer Martin Cleary are a good place to start.

Roos is convinced that, if every Canadian knew the athletes and was aware of their financial needs, it would bring out the sports philanthropist in all of us who enjoy watching our Olympic athletes in action.

“People want to help,” Roos says. “They don’t know how to go about giving.”

It’s easy enough. Check out the website and donate eight bucks. Some families are giving $8 per family member (get your kids to do chores for the donation and the CAN Fund will provide a certificate), companies are donating $8 per employee or sponsoring an athlete with $6,000 outright. Donations over $25 are tax deductible.

Roos is relentless. Now she’s after Rick Mercer to do an item on $8 for 08/08/08 for The Mercer Report. There has to be a gag in there somewhere.

Read previous columns by Wayne Scanlan at He can be reached